Spring 2016

From Lay Leader to Pastor

How a church-planting coach makes the difference

by S. Daniel Smith

In 2004, Ron and Fran Haygood were teaching school in their multiethnic, working-class community of Anniston, Alabama. Schoolteachers, churchgoers and parents of two boys ages 3 and under.

Gradually, though, they became disenchanted with their church’s lack of commitment to discipleship and outreach. Rather than simply switch churches, Ron became aware of a tug on his heart: to live more on-mission with God in partnership with other believers in planting a new church.

Without an additional source of funding, Ron knew that they would need to keep their jobs while church planting. Although anxious about the risks, Fran agreed. Unfortunately, that first church faded. As did a second one, four years later. But the call did not fade—instead, it persisted as a gentle, constant drive in Ron’s heart.

By 2010, Ron owned his own insurance business and Fran was working as an elementary-school counselor when they decided to try church planting one more time. Wiser from past efforts—and with older children who didn’t require the level of attention they had needed as babies—Ron and Fran believed that the time was right. A church plant in a working-class neighborhood still wouldn’t be able to pay them much, so they again chose to keep their jobs and go the bivocational route.

The Living Church was officially planted on September 5, 2010, with 15 people (including children and the core team)—mostly friends and family—who met in a small building with three rooms and roughly 600 square feet of space. At that point, they were carrying tables, chairs and an overhead projector from the Haygood home each week. As years passed, the church stockpiled most of its own supplies and moved to a larger meeting space as it grew to 25 weekly attendees. Ron hopes to see that number double over the next five years.

Ron has other tangible goals for the future as well, such as being fully funded by the church, having at least one (if not several) teaching elders, and finding more appropriate meeting space that will give them adequate parking and allow permanent signage. He also hopes to meet some intangible goals, such as making a bigger impact on the working-class community where they live and serve.

Sometimes, just “doing” church in our culture is a major distraction to living on-mission.

Reaching out for help

Soon after starting The Living Church, Ron recognized that he couldn’t do it alone. Adding programs and outreach events contributed to the strain. “I knew that we would need accountability and fellowship,” he says. “I was looking for a group to help me grow as a pastor.”

Ron began by doing a bit of Internet research—first exploring the local Baptist organization and the Foursquare Church movement, then the EFCA. As he explored efca.org he saw the movement’s multiethnic makeup and was so impressed he decided to reach out.

Soon after Ron contacted the EFCA’s national office, he received a call from the church-planting director of the Southeast District, Bruce Redmond. Bruce offered guidance and resources for the road ahead and connected Ron with other pastors in the district. He also visited every three months or so. On one of his early visits, Bruce noticed that the church’s meeting location was far too small to accommodate growth, so he helped Ron see the importance of moving to the larger building where they currently meet. Bruce also assisted by resourcing materials for discipleship and helping the fledgling congregation attain its nonprofit status.

Bruce is no stranger to mentoring church planters: He and his wife, Jackie, have invested in more than 100 church-planting couples over the years and have specifically coached 23 different lay leaders like the Haygoods to launch their churches. Each time the Redmonds get together with a new couple, they expect to meet entrepreneurs and pray that those entrepreneurs are also teachable. In Ron and Fran Haygood they found both.

“My greatest focus and challenge in coaching church-planting pastors,” Bruce says, “is helping them make disciples toward multiplication. Sometimes, just ‘doing’ church in our culture is a major distraction to living on-mission.”

American cultural expectations are largely to blame for this problem, he explains, because all churchgoers expect programs, preaching, teaching and shepherding. Most planters are forced to match this model even if it keeps them from their initial focus: reaching the lost in their neighborhoods and discipling their flock. Through coaching, Bruce helps to keep the planter on-mission.

For The Living Church, an “on-mission” focus means offering a spiritual voice to its community while meeting tangible physical needs: purchasing Christmas presents for local children, donating supplies to a domestic violence shelter, and purchasing back-to-school clothes and shoes for the shelter’s residents. The church also sends support to a church/school in Liberia, Africa.

Through his coaching, Bruce also validates a lay leader’s call—which helps eliminate a sense of inferiority around fully funded pastors—and counsels each bivo pastor to watch for burnout. “Are you getting rest for your soul?” he’ll ask. Jackie Redmond similarly offered encouragement and counseling to Fran along the way.

Despite launching The Living Church without a seminary degree, Ron has nonetheless been in serious pursuit of theological growth. Under Bruce’s coaching, he enrolled in GATEWAY, the EFCA’s program of theological and pastoral training for nontraditional students. Together with others in the Southeast District, he studied the foundations for the EFCA Statement of Faith and explored specific ethical and ministerial issues. He expects to officially graduate from phase one of GATEWAY by summer 2016.

Ron’s years of living and working in the same community have given him an invaluable “presence.”

Navigating the ups and downs

Ron faces challenges common to most bivocational pastors. For example, as an expositional preacher, he would prefer 15-20 hours of serious study per week to effectively plan his sermons. This was an issue particularly in the beginning of The Living Church, when he could only carve out half that amount because he was working 30 hours per week in his insurance business.

He has since cut those hours drastically to pursue an M.Div. from Birmingham Theological Seminary. Yet he still focuses about the same number of hours on graduate work as he used to on his business, and the church’s giving is beginning to compensate for the lost income.

Even though he’s moving toward the role of fully funded pastor, Ron’s years of living and working in the same community have given him an invaluable “presence.” Fran, too, finds that both students and teachers come to her for help and counsel. The Haygoods hope that these relationships will lead to more opportunities for the gospel and more ways for their growing church to touch lives.

From his early years as an eager lay leader with a drive to be on-mission in his community, Ron has grown into his title of pastor. The Living Church is still small, with growing pains ahead, yet the EFCA’s invaluable coaching has given Ron immeasurable confidence that he is able to rightly handle the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15) and thus walk his church into that future.

S. Daniel Smith is a career sailor as well as a husband and father of three living in Jacksonville, Florida. He earned a Master of Arts degree from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and has been involved in EFCA churches in Illinois. He blogs at navychristian.org and tweets @Navychristian.